Another Opportunity To Keep Climbing Toward NCAA Tournament Bubble Awaits Notre Dame Basketball At Syracuse
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Another Opportunity To Keep Climbing Awaits Notre Dame At Syracuse

Notre Dame basketball is among the minority of folks who have enjoyed paying a visit to Central New York in the dead of winter.

The Irish have found Syracuse’s Carrier Dome to be warm and welcoming in their last two trips there, notching wins over the Orange both times. The most recent was an 88-87 victory on Jan. 4 of last season. Before that, a 51-49 grinder in 2018.

Two opposite game scripts. The 2020-21 iterations of both teams, though, are built for more games like the former. They’ll play Saturday (2 p.m. ET, ACCN) in their only scheduled meeting of the year.

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Notre Dame has won the last two times it played Syracuse on the road.
Notre Dame has won the last two times it played Syracuse on the road. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Notre Dame (9-10, 6-7 ACC) and Syracuse rank in the top five in the ACC in conference-game offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com. Each shoots a higher volume of threes than the national average. Neither is inside the top-80 of KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings. Syracuse, currently KenPom’s No. 81 defense, has finished a season lower than that only twice in the last 20 seasons.

Still, coach Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone is an unusual look that forces teams to game plan differently.

“We’ve played pretty well against it because we can pass and catch,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Wednesday on WSBT radio. “It’s a different tempo, it’s a mental challenge to play against a 2-3 zone for 60-something possessions. When we get stops and get down before they’re set, it really helps against the zone.

“You have to play a little slower, you have to pass-fake. You’re not going to be able to just drive it after one ball reversal. You try and get your guards especially to understand you have to pass-fake, have to grind a little and the possessions can be a little longer.”

Syracuse is, though, increasingly prone to large volumes of three-point attempts than in years past. That’s to be expected for a zone team, to a degree. But the Orange’s opponents are launching 44.7 percent of their shot attempts from three-point range, their third-highest volume allowed since 2001-02.

Notre Dame, which ranks 52nd out of 345 active teams nationally in three-point volume (42.9 percent of total shots) and 26th in accuracy (38.1 percent), will be happy to take what is given.

“We have enough shot-makers,” Brey said. “Anytime we play them, you have to get to double-digit threes to beat them. We made 15 in the Carrier Dome last year.”

In the bigger picture, Syracuse (12-6, 6-5) is one of three Quadrant 1 opportunities in Notre Dame’s last five regular-season games. The Orange aren’t a projected NCAA tournament team at this point, but are No. 5 in the NET rankings – well above the top-75 cutoff for Quadrant 1 road games.

Notre Dame is 1-7 in Quadrant 1 games, with its only win at Duke on Feb. 9. Kentucky (77th NET) and Pittsburgh (80th), two prior teams it beat on the road, are just outside Quad 1 territory. The Irish’s eight Quadrant 1 games are the most of any ACC team. To make a serious run at the NCAA tournament, that Quadrant 1 win percentage has to go up. By a lot.

But that’s a concern Brey keeps to himself and his staff.

“I haven’t really talked to our guys much about it,” Brey said. “I talk about it in general terms in that we control our own destiny in what we’ve done in the last eight games, being 6-2, to put ourselves in position to keep hoping, dreaming and working.”

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Notre Dame (9-10, 6-7 ACC) at Syracuse (12-6, 6-5)

When: Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, 2 p.m. ET

Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

TV: ACCN

Radio: Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network

Line: Syracuse

KenPom Prediction: Syracuse 77, Notre Dame 74

Last meeting: Syracuse won 84-82 on Jan. 22, 2020 in South Bend

Series history: Syracuse leads 30-22

Other notes

• Notre Dame didn’t play this week after a Wednesday game vs. Clemson was called off due to the Tigers’ COVID-19 issues. It represented a chance for Notre Dame to notch a Quadrant 2 win and its first win over a team current projected to make the NCAA tournament.

“The one thing disappointing about Clemson is they’re up there in the NET (41st) and would’ve helped us,” Brey said.

• Had Notre Dame played this week, it would’ve been without junior guard Cormac Ryan, who suffered an ankle injury in the Feb. 14 win over Miami. He is expected to play Saturday.

• The Irish were just 7-for-29 (24.4 percent) on three-pointers in beating Miami, only the second time in the last eight games they were below 38 percent from deep.

• Grad student center Juwan Durham is shooting an ACC-best 63.3 percent from the field in league games. He has scored in double figures in six straight games and nine of the last 10.

• Syracuse takes 38.5 percent of its shots from three-point range, about one percent higher than the national average, but is shooting 31.8 percent from behind the arc in conference games.

• The Orange’s leading scorer is wing Alan Griffin, who is in his first season after transferring from Illinois. He’s averaging 15.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 44.5 percent overall and 37.3 percent on threes.

• Syracuse has four players who average at least 3.0 assists per game.

• The road team has won the last four games in the series.

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